War with Iraq was the top subject in class and on the minds of regional high school students and teachers on Wednesday. Close to 600 students gathered in the school Performing Arts Center to express their opposition to the war.
The peace rally was organized in concert with similar events held across the country. There were classroom walkouts across the nation, and many of the Island's young spoke of doing the same, but chose otherwise. The noon-hour program had been offered as an alternative.
Students sang, read speeches and argued the merits of a war that has sent soldiers not much older than themselves halfway around the world.
Ty Sinnett, 15, a sophomore at the high school, was the organizer of the event. She said she had gone to Washington, D.C., over the Martin Luther King holiday to protest the war. She said she learned earlier in the week through an article in The New York Times about a nationwide school walkout being planned for noon on Wednesday.
She said she talked quietly among her classmates about the observance earlier in the week. She told the Gazette: "On Wednesday I decided I wanted something done."
Ms. Sinnett said she talked to a number of students who had heard that they'd be in trouble if they left school. "I went into the principal's [Peg Regan's] office with a friend to ask and we were told that definitely all students would be written up if they left the school."
Ten minutes later, Ms. Sinnett said: "Mrs. Regan called me into her office. I told her our plan, an hour and a half before the program. Fifteen minutes later, Mrs. Regan came over and said she could give us the Performing Arts Center since it was raining outside."
The 20-minute program was scheduled to start at 11:40 a.m. It wound up lasting about an hour.
A microphone on a stand was on the stage.
One student after another stood before the microphone and spoke of the costs of war. Students supporting the war effort also had their moment.
"Is it moral to attack a country that is disarming?" asked Matt Luce, 18, a senior from Oak Bluffs.
Keith Leonard, 17, and Alex Whall, 16, of Edgartown went onstage to sing a song written for the occasion. Mr. Leonard sang while Mr. Whall strummed the guitar.
Holding a piece of paper in his hand, Mr. Leonard sang: "Sorry, Mom, I just can't stay, Uncle Sam's going to take me away.
"I'll be home next summer. I'll be home next summer, marching to the beat of a different drummer.
"There are people congregating in the streets, get the men out on their feet. The olive branch is on fire, we'll put it out with our desire, to be free."
Willy Mason of West Tisbury sang a song and drew a standing ovation from his classmates. He said: "I am supportive of our country. But this war is not about protecting citizens."
Three students in favor of the war went on stage. There were a few catcalls from the audience, but classmates listened politely for the most part, and finally applauded their words.
Duncan MacMullen of Oak Bluffs, 17, said: "Saddam hasn't complied with what the United Nations required. You may hate the war, but don't hate the soldiers."
Stuart Bangs of Edgartown, 17, held an American flag and declared: "Saddam is a sick, sick man."
Jacob Stricoff of Edgartown, 16, thanked the students for listening to both sides.
Ms. Sinnett was introduced by a fellow student as the organizer of the noon event. "I don't think the United States should go into Iraq without the United Nations behind us," she said.
Liz Schweitzer, 16, of Edgartown told the audience her grandparents had lived through World War II. "My parents saw the Korean and Vietnam wars and the Gulf war. Can't there be a generation without war?" she asked.
Mac Schilcher, a varsity football star and a senior, stepped to the microphone and said he was opposed to the war. He said 77 per cent of the people in the United States don't want to go to war.
"Learn as much as you can about this war," Mr. Schilcher urged his fellow students.
Carrying a flag, social studies teacher Elaine Weintraub walked on stage, followed by a group of students. She spoke about becoming a United States citizen and the value and privileges of democracy.
"Talking about peace is American," she told the students. "Discussing war is American. I urge you all to talk this out."
Rachel Lucier, 16, a sophomore, walked to the microphone and challenged her audience: "This is a walkout - what are we doing here?"
As the students put their coats to leave the hall, principal Peg Regan took the microphone. She urged students to return to classes and continue the debate there.
Ms. Lucier said after the program she was pleased by the participation. "I thought it was good all of the people got a chance to express their point of view," she said, even those who favored the war.
There were teachers in the school who would have preferred to attend the Performing Arts Center rally but had to stay in the classroom. Marge Harris, who teaches United States history, said she wished could have attended the students' event, but there were students in her class who chose not to attend the rally.